A common complaint of small business owners these days is how powerful Google is. A bad algorithm shift or a spidering problem can leave a small business on the verge of bankruptcy in a matter of a few months. While it's easy enough to tell people that they need to diversify and stop relying so heavily on Google, that can be hard for companies to put into action. That's why I decided to put myself and my marketing sense to the challenge once again with a new business and a new article series.
Back when I wrote the Thirty Day series, the point was to show would-be entrepreneurs they could launch a new business on a tight budget and succeed through the power of search and viral marketing. The series was wildly popular and I learned as much as my readers did. In fact, more than 18 months later The Lactivist is now the most popular breastfeeding blog on the Internet and lands almost as many press calls and emails as Search Engine Guide does.
Since the launch of that series, I've continued to work with small businesses to help them learn how to better market their businesses online. The difference is that the rise of social media and the growth of the blogosphere has provided even more opportunity for businesses to market themselves online without relying directly on search traffic from the major players.
Can a Business Survive Without Google?
One point that I continue to hear over and over (and OVER) from businesses? That they are "forced" to rely too heavily on Google. Whether it's the struggle to gain strong rankings in the organic index or the razor-thin margins associated with running a paid search campaign, new business start-ups seem convinced that they can't get anywhere without Google.
I'm here to tell them that they can.
Let's pretend for a moment that the sandbox exists. (It doesn't.) Let's pretend that no matter how hard you try, no matter how creative your offering is, you are not going to find yourself listed on Google anytime soon.
You can still make your business work and you can still build the foundation that will serve you well in search engines down the road. In fact, I'd argue that without the crutch of Google propping you up, you'll be forced to build the type of business that can ride the ups and downs of search. That means search can only help you by boosting your business. It can't put you at risk by defining your business.
Kicking Google to the Curb
How am I going to prove it? Well, I'm going to be writing a new article series that follows the creation of yet another new business. The difference is that this time, I'm kicking Google (and Yahoo and Windows Live and Ask) to the curb and telling the world that you CAN build a business, increase traffic and drive sales all without the major search engines.
In fact, I've loaded a robots.txt file on my new site that reads as follows:
Search Engine Guide with No Search Engines?
Now it may seem odd to write a series on Search Engine Guide about marketing a web site without using the four major search engines, but hear me out.
First, those four engines are not the only sources of search traffic. Blog engines like Technorati, smaller search engines and directories and the search features within social media sites like Flickr and YouTube all serve up traffic and leads to web sites. Things like good old fashioned link building also come into play. I'll also be exploring more areas of social media marketing including creative ways to market within communities without crossing the line from helpful member to annoying advertiser.
Second, the work that I do on this site in the early months will lay the foundation for solid search engine rankings down the road. Nearly every business finds their way into the major engines eventually. The goal here is to build the type of content and link foundations that will help the site quickly rise to the top when we do allow the spiders to come in and play.
Introducing Bento Yum
Last time around I built a niche business that was focused heavily on content creation with a secondary goal of selling t-shirts. (For those who wonder what ever happened, The Lactivist now pulls in nearly $1000 a month from advertising and shirt sales off of about an hour's work a day.)
This time around, I'm building the business off the base of another blog, but with the goal of selling actual products.
What the heck is a bento you ask? Well, that's a good question and it typifies the need to go niche with a creative and appealing product if you want to succeed on a small budget.
Sushi fans are likely familiar with the idea of a bento box. Bento boxes are basically the Japanese version of a "boxed lunch" and in U.S. restaurants often feature sushi, veggies and rice. These days bento is catching on as a unique style of lunch packing that appeals to people interested in packing creative, healthy lunches that give automatic portion control and cut lunch bills. In fact, just a few weeks after I launched Bento Yum, the Washington Post featured an article discussing the new fad.
The problem is that although bento is a growing trend (especially among moms looking for ways to get picky kids to eat healthy lunches), there are few options for purchasing bento supplies in the United States. Outside of a few major metro areas, bento fanatics are limited to what they can find on eBay at insane mark-ups.
Enter Lactivist reader Abigail Munday. An American living in Japan with her British husband, Abigail is the stay at home mom of a toddler and was looking to earn a little extra cash from home. Abigail had been kind enough to go shopping for me and to ship over three boxes of bento goodies. Interestingly, within a few days of me receiving the package, we both realized at the same time that there was some business potential here.
So I agreed to put together a blog and to stock it with content and she agreed to put together bento starter sets for us to sell at the blog. When orders started rolling in before the site even had a chance to be properly indexed (more than 2 dozen orders in the first 10 days) I realized that this project could be a great case study and we made the joint decision to block the major search spiders and to get creative with our marketing.
Hide and Speak
I've dubbed this new series "Hide and Speak" because we'll be keeping the site hidden from search engine spiders and will seek to market it by "speaking" to customers via links, blogs and communities. We'll build a sustainable business that can one day count on the search engines to supplement (but not fully supply) our sales. We'll remind people of the importance of becoming part of the community you're seeking to reach and we'll explore the ups and downs of social media marketing.
As with the 30 Day series, you'll once again get complete transparency. There won't be any sweeping the bad ideas under the rug and when it's time for me to eat crow, I'll serve it up creatively in a fun bento box. I'm already about a month into the site and I can promise you that while I've had a few great hits, I've already made a few major mistakes.
You'll get to follow me as I play with WordPress for the first time, as I generate new content, as I find creative ways to market via community and as I find out just how little I know about usability.
So come along for the ride and find out what happens when you seek to build a business in 2007 without the help of Google.
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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